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Review of the book - 'Life on the Edge'

'Life on the Edge' is a fascinating book trying to understand the greatest mystery of the nature - What is life? The authors have discussed the various mysterious phenomenon in the animal and human lives and tried to showcase that quantum biology, might one day explain the origin and mystery of life.


The search for 'What is life?' has since long intrigued the philosophers and scientists alike and still a lot of research is going in this area and the scientist are keen to unravel this greatest mystery of the nature.

'Life on the Edge' jointly written by Johnjoe McFadden, molecular Biologist and Jim Al-Khalili, theoretical Physicist, is an attempt to understand where we stand in this respect and how science is progressing ahead to solve this mystery.

The book is written in simple language and people having even elementary knowledge of Science and Biology can understand and grasp it easily.

About the Book

The book deals with the understanding of extraordinary phenomenon known as 'life' and searches for the answer to the question - 'What is life?'

The authors have tried to analyze various puzzles of life chapter wise and have suggested that one day Quantum Biology may have an answer to this mystery just like Quantum Mechanics, which answered and explained many things which could not be solved using Classical Mechanics.

The authors have amalgamated Quantum Physics, Biochemistry and Biology and blended everything as Quantum Biology in order to explain the intricacies of life form and their possible origins.

The authors were themselves involved in the research on these subjects since two decades and have taken almost 3 years to bring this book which is in fact written by them for a lay audience.

The book is divided in 10 chapters.

The first chapter is the introduction to the book as well as explaining one of the mysteries of nature that is long flight of the migratory birds from one place of globe to another. The accuracy and precision of these flights have been a matter of great astonishment to the observers and scientists alike and after a lot of research it was found out that there is a biochemical biomolecular system in the birds which can detect the magnetic field direction and find out whether they were near the poles or equator. This may appear unbelieving but it is true that these migratory birds possess magnetoreception which is a unique property by which birds can detect magnetic field.

The second chapter contains discussions on understanding the differences in the living and non living. What is that in a living animal which differentiates it from a rock or dead substances. Though many similar compounds and chemicals are present in both of them but their functioning in a living entities is amazing and incomprehensible. The property of life to replicate itself is another great thing which made the subject more difficult. In ancient times, scholars justified the life by adding an element of 'soul' which somehow satisfied the curiosity of the researchers though it did not unravel the real mystery.

The third chapter is very interesting where the authors have described and discussed the role of enzymes in our life and all the living beings. Starting from an example of dinosaur fossil where fibrous muscle tissues were found intact and disintegrated quickly when placed in an enzyme - which proves that enzymes are the engines of our life and they change the different ingredients to other compounds in quick paces. The temperatures are also a very important factor which facilitate some materials to combine and form other important products. In such situation sometimes the molecules having higher energy are only able to cross the boundary between the two states and this phenomenon is put akin to quantum tunneling in the field of molecular biology.

In the fourth chapter, the authors have described the dual nature of light and other energy forms and basic particles like atoms and have shown that dual nature exists and can be explained by only Quantum Mechanics. In the same way the small biochemical and bio molecular substances also behave when they combine and form other biomass and products. So that is the beginning of quantum leap in the biological reactions though a lot is yet to be found in this direction.

The fifth chapter deals with the sense of smell and odour in animals and in particular humans. Some examples of fishes and other animals are also described who have extraordinary smell and reach back their home from far distances. The anatomy of our nose and it's detailed structure to smell the different odours is really amazing but how it distinguishes between the different odours is a big scientific puzzle. The molecules of a particular odour are received by the ol-factory neurons in the vicinity of nasal cavity and the information is sent to the brain. How the information about a specific odour is collected by ol-factory neurons and sent to the brain for recognition is a mystery for scientists and though there are many theories proposed but none of them explains the phenomenon properly. Probably some theory one day can explain it with the dual nature of ol-factory and odour molecules where not only size but vibration of the molecules plays a part in detection of a particular odour. That could also be the beginning of Quantum Biology.

In the sixth chapter the authors have taken up some other interesting case histories of animal life where generation after generation, they are going to repeat the same old rituals and patterns in their lives. The remarkable case of Monarch butterfly is narrated in details where these butterflies followed the same path of flight from Canada to Mexico and more surprisingly they were resting, breeding and even dying on the route but their offsprings repeated the same trail as efficiently as their elders. It establishes another case of detection of magnetic field or keeping a 'in built body clock' by strange molecular and atomic level activity where only quantum mechanics adopted to Quantum Biology can help in understanding the phenomenon.

The seventh chapter is very interesting where the concepts of replication of species and preservation of genetic codes through generations is explained. The authors have argued that due to various reasons in long durations certain mutations in the species in accordance with the Charles Darwin's theory of evolution are possible which can also be thought as mistakes occurring adaptively or for survival in DNA structures. They also emphasize that these changes are very subtle but can only be explained by concepts of Quantum Biology which is emerging as a branch of Science to unravel the mystery of life.

In the eighth chapter the authors have discussed the 'mind' in our life and this is the most enthralling part of the book. The 'consciousness' in our mind is something which is responsible for all our responses, actions, logics and understanding even about ourselves. This developed level of consciousness especially in humans is yet to be understood fully from molecular and biochemical point of views.

Nineth chapter deals with origin of life and tries to understand how life could have begun on Earth. What was that condition when life emerged from a combination of dead materials and chemicals.

In the last chapter that is chapter 10, the authors have conjectured how a prototype life can formed using quantum biology and what are the various ingredients might be needed for it.

About the Authors

Johnjoe McFadden is a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey, UK. He is Anglo-Irish and was born on 17 May 1956. He has specialized in the field of tuberculosis and meningitis. He has also invented the first successful molecular test for meningitis. He is editor of various leading textbooks and is author of the book 'Quantum Evolution' and co-editor of the book 'Human Nature: Fact and Fiction'.

Jim Al-Khalili is a leading theoretical Physicist based at the University of Surrey, UK. He was born on 20 September 1962 and has written a number of popular science books, including 'Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science'. He has presented several television and radio documentaries. He is a well known author as well as a broadcaster.


Life on the Edge is a fascinating book in which authors have compiled the basics of scientific research, so far done, in understanding the life and future scope of work in this most challenging area. Taking the lead from Quantum Mechanics, the authors have indicated that quantum biology, which is in evolving state, some day, may answer these questions.


Author: Manish Nanda28 Aug 2018 Member Level: Silver   Points : 0

I haven't read the book yet but after reading your article, it seems the book is worth reading. Thank you for sharing the details.

Author: Neeru Bhatt03 Sep 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 2

From the review, the book seems to be an interesting read. The searching for the solution to the question 'what is life?' is going to take endless nights of research for the scholars. What we are doing in this research is to use ourselves to find out what we are and how we are here on this planet and what is our origin. So a biological machine is trying to decipher out its own origin. It may not be so easy. Anyway, the quest is on and scientists are on the trail of this mystery.

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